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Ecosystems and ecoregions
Amur meadow steppe
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The Amur meadow steppe covers riverine wetlands and grasslands of the middle Amur-Heilong River.  The extensive meadows here are the result of river meandering over long periods of time across the alluvial deposits in the Amur-Heilong valley. The meadow steppe might also be a remnant of the large shallow lake that formerly filled the valleys.  In its pristine condition the area supported strips of diverse broadleaf forest and pines on the elongated dunes formed by river action.  Because it was free of ice during the Pleistocene, the flora and fauna of the Amur-Heilong meadow steppe corresponds strongly with flora and fauna of more southern regions of East Asia.  The ecoregion has two parts demarcated by a gorge in the Small Hinggan Mountains (Hinggan Straits).  The northwest part of the Zeya-Bureya Plain was formed around the lower sections of these two large tributaries and the Amur-Heilong River mainstem.  Together these rivers regularly flooded a tremendous area.  Best preserved wetland ecosystems of this section are located in the Arkhara lowlands east of the Bureya River mouth.
The larger eastern part of the ecoregion was formed by even larger tributaries, the Songhua (Sungari) and Ussuri-Wusuli Rivers.  In Russia it is called the Middle Amur-Heilong Plain, in Chinese this area is called the Three Rivers or Sanjiang plain. We consider areas downstream from Bolon Lake to be a transition zone between this ecoregion and the Wetlands of the Lower Amur. The seasonal flooding regime of the Amur-Heilong River is a unique natural phenomenon of global significance.  At present, no dams block the Amur-Heilong’s main channel, which runs nearly 4,500 kilometers from Mongolia into the Tartar Strait of the Okhotsk Sea.  The river floods its banks up to 4-6 times during the summer, mostly during the monsoon season in July and August, when it swells to 10-25 kilometers in width in years of heavy rainfall.Hydropower dam has already been built on the Zeya and Bureya Rivers, they have changed hydrologic regimes and threatened the well-being of many endangered wetland species. Plans have been long proposed to build hydroelectric stations at three to nine sites on the Amur-Heilong main channel with at least five more dams on its tributaries.  This would disrupt the natural flood regime and degrade the river ecosystem.  Consequences would be severe for spawning salmon and sturgeon, and migrating and breeding birds.  Pollution from agriculure, human settlements and industry threatens the waters of the Amur-Heilong River, compromising the integrity of wetland ecosystems.  Wetlands here have plant communities not found elsewhere in Russia.  In the Amur-Heilong basin northern species grow alongside southern species, including exotic and tropical species of plants.  Relic plant species include Komarov lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), water shield, and gorgon plant. Rare species found here also include sword-leaved iris (Iris ensata), candock (Nuphar luteum), and pygmy water lily.
Wetlands on the plains of the Amur-Heilong River are globally significant for migration of tens of thousands of geese and hundreds of thousands of ducks and waders.  Endangered species such as Far Eastern curlew (Numenius madagascarensis), swan goose (Anser cygnoides), and Baikal teal (Anas formosa) depend on these stop-over areas.  Each spring and autumn, birds stop here to feed and rest along the East Asian migration route between nesting areas in the north and wintering grounds in the Yangtze River valley in China and on the Korean Peninsula and the islands of Japan (see Map of Bird migration routes)
About 20 species of globally rare and endangered birds use these wetlands for migration or breeding.  Rapid development of riparian ecosystems throughout Northeast China means that the Amur-Heilong valley harbors some of the last remaining habitat for migratory and breeding waterfowl and plays a crucial role in their survival.  Drainage of wetlands, dam construction, human disturbance, grass fires, and sport hunting are the major threats in the East Asian Flyway.
Stop-over areas and rare bird habitats protected in the Amur-Heilong River valley include three of six existing Ramsar sites in the Russian portion of the Amur basin: Zeya-Bureya Plain (Muravievsky game refuge), Arkhara Lowlands (Khingansky Zapovednik), Bolon Lake (Bolonsky Zapovednik).  Sanjiang National Nature Reserve and Honghe National Nature Reserve in China are also Ramsar sites.  Several other prominent reserves have been established: Aldikon protected wetland (Amurskaya province), Zabelovsky refuge (Evreiskaya Autonomous region), Bachadao National Nature Reserve, Naolihe National Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province.  While the Amur-Heilong and Ussuri-Wusuli floodplains are protected in large tracts within China’s nature reserves, Russian reserves generally protect wetlands along smaller tributaries and much smaller areas of the Amur and Ussuri floodplains proper.


Zeya River. (Photo by I.Maslova)

Map collection: Land cover, ecosystems and ecoregions



Topography of Amur Heilong River Basin

Landuse/Land cover –SPOT satellite imagery

Vegetation map

Change in Forest Cover in Amur Heilong River Basin


Floristic zones

Fauna types

Terrestrial ecoregions

Global 200 Ecoregions

Freshwater ecoregions

Major protected areas of Amur-Heilong


Map collection: Natural vegetation zones change ( Time series - 7 maps)



Amur meadows and wetlands – Amur midflow

Khanka Lake and upper Ussury wetlands

Lower Amur wetlands

Fish diversity




Waterbirds and bird migrations


Three gorges of the Dragon River

Amur river system

Water management


GIS:Soil and vegetation

GIS: Land cover/Land use according to satellite imagery


Also look:

Landscape diversity in Amur-Heilong River Basin

Landscape changes throughout recent geological history

Amur-Heilong River Basin Ecoregional zoning

Global 200 ecoregions in Amur-Heilong River Basin

Boreal forests of Amur-Heilong River Basin

Tiger forests - Temperate forests:

Global 200 Dauria Steppe

Global 200 Amur Wetlands:

Suifen-Khanka meadows and forest meadows

Wetlands of Lower Amur Mountain Valley Ecoregion


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